Like many whisky fans, I am guilty of possibly focussing a little too much on scotch. Every review I have written so far has been a scotch, although to be fair, this website has only been live for around a month! While that obsession and focus is unlikely to change too much, it’s important to recognise and feature other countries that are also making some very good whisk(e)y.
England is one such place where the whisky has been gathering plenty of momentum in recent years, with distilleries such as Bimber, The Lakes and English Whisky Co enjoying plenty of success and acclaim. The last mentioned is currently the oldest active whisky distillery in the country, having been founded as long ago as 2006!
Although England does have a whisky making past, it’s worth noting that England was without a whisky making distillery for most of the 20th century, but the past twenty years have seen more than twenty new distilleries start to make an impact on the single malt scene.
English whisky currently uses regulations defined by EU law >> https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019R0787&rid=6 (see page 31 is where it is defined) . Essentially it has to be made from malted cereals or unmalted whole grains of unmalted cereals, matured for a minimum of 3 years in wooden casks not exceeding 700 litre capacity, bottled at a minimum ABV of 40% and cannot have added flavours or sweeteners. The only allowed additive is plain caramel colourant and water to dilute to the required strength. It isn’t a long list, but it is recognisably a definition of whisky.
These regulations are less wide reaching and restrictive compared to their Scottish counterparts. Although most will agree regulation is important to ensure quality and protect the identity of whisky, the Scotch Whisky Association have always been resistant to any changes, whether they benefit the finished product or not (Compass Box inner staves anybody?). Therefore, English whisky, and that of other regions outside of Scotland, has much more scope for innovation.
With Brexit separating the UK from the EU and their laws, there is talk of the English distilleries getting together to define their own rules. A little research I did into this has thrown up a company called the English Whisky Guild, which was registered on 18th January 2021, with directors that have links to prominent English distilleries. Little appears to have been mentioned about this in the whisky media, so watch this space as i’m sure more will become clear in time. Whatever happens, hopefully the basic framework of those EU laws will remain without too much added to restrict distillers creativity.
Anyway, let’s get on with the main reason for this piece and talk about a new English distillery that has recently released it’s first single malt whisky.
This distillery came to my attention first of all due to their location, just half an hour by car from my front door! For anybody who isn’t spoilt for choice by living in Scotland, that is rather exciting and I was keen to try their whisky as soon as it was mature enough to be given that name.
Henstone is located in Oswestry, a historic market town in North Shropshire, close to the border with neighbouring Wales. With two of their four owners having run their own brewery on the site for a number of years, they were in a position to do something many of their English distilling peers don’t, and make their own wash on site. With this part of the whisky making process making such a difference to the whiskies flavour and character, that is very important. It gives Henstone much more control of the spirit they are producing and allows for experimentation with different yeast strains, barley varieties etc.
The whisky is produced in small batches and distilled in their 1000 litre still named Hilda. Hilda is a pot/column still hybrid, which eliminates the need for separate wash and spirit stills. Every part of the process is done on site from mashing to bottling.
The first whisky was laid down in casks in January 2018 and the bottle I have comes from batch 2, which is 100% ex-bourbon matured and bottled in late January 2021, so this is whisky at it’s youngest. It is presented at 43.8% ABV with no chill filtration or added colour.
Nose : The nose is bright with honeyed apples, pears and elderflower cordial aromas. Very nice indeed.
Palate : Light, fruity and juicy on the palate with more of those orchard fruits and some lemon zest. Then chopped walnuts and creamy vanilla custard come in. There’s some spicy pepper there on the tongue and the finish is rather drying, but the fruity notes are still there.
Conclusions : I am enjoying this immensely. The fruitiness is lovely and it’s one of those whiskies that I could easily drink more than I should very quickly! There is a youthfulness about it, but it isn’t harsh and spirity at all.
I’m regularly amazed at how good some of these young whiskies being produced by the new distilleries are, and this is certainly one of the better ones I have come across. Having started off my malt journey as a bit of a peat head, it surprises me how I have turned almost 180 degrees and this fruity, ex-bourbon style is something I seek out more and more these days.
I look forward to trying future expressions and paying Henstone a visit when restrictions allow.
Score : 7/10
(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)
Three word review : Light. Fruity. Creamy
ABV : 43.8%
Non-chill filtered : Yes
Natural Colour : Yes
Maturation : Ex-bourbon
Region : England
Colour : White Wine